Many if not most Democrats are outraged by President Barack Obama’s caving in to Republican demands for extending the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and a lightening of estate taxes for multi-millionaire heirs to fortunes they didn’t earn themselves--especially in a time of deepening budget deficits and many people remaining in economic distress. This cannot be gainsaid in the face of the new reality that the coming Tea Party Republican House wants to gut or eliminate social safety net programs. What Obama received in “return” only exacerbates the problem: an extension of unemployment benefits and tax cuts for businesses. To increase tax cuts and add to government pay-outs only does one thing: cause the budget deficit to inflate still further. The budget problem, as the deficit reduction task force concluded, can only be addressed through a combination of tax hikes and budget cuts; not allowing at least some of the Bush tax cuts to sunset is simply insane and irresponsible. The Republicans are simply paying debts to their wealthy paymasters. Obama says that this is no time to “play politics.” The sad reality is that this is exactly what he and his Republicans “friends” are doing.
It cannot be denied that Obama has been a major disappointment for many people on the left and even in the center. It is apparent that what Obama meant by “change” was not a shift away from regressive policies and shift toward progressive policies that address long-term issues such as energy, the environment, easing international tensions and to detoxify the toxic atmosphere of social discord that the Bush administration went out of its way to fan the flames of. If one be honest, all this was part of Obama’s stated agenda; the problem was the foolhardy way he was going to go about accomplishing these objectives. We did not know that instead of ignoring the attacks from the right that began even before he officially took office, and forcefully defending a new direction that a majority of voters expected him to take, he was going to bend over backwards trying to accommodate the Republicans. Obama refused to understand that his relatively lightweight resume required that he now show the Republicans that he was no pushover; he had to show strength and courage. Taking Bill Clinton’s “advice” and compromising whatever principles he claimed to possess was a mistake; Clinton had a Republican-controlled Congress to deal with, and Obama had 60 votes in the Senate. He didn’t need to be everybody’s “friend.” He only needed to layout specific goals and push Democratic legislators to achieve it, or he wouldn’t sign off on it. Instead, he didn’t layout specific goals that he would not back away from under any circumstances, and simply allowed Congress to make things up as they went along, which was a recipe for disaster. There was the entirely pointless tax cut included in the stimulus package, which lower-income people like myself barely noticed and only increased the deficit, just to get votes from one or two “moderate” Republicans to make things appear “bi-partisan.” Then there was the year-long disorder that was the health care reform bill; the only thing that Obama needed to do was force a public option to be passed. The very existence of a public option would have forced the health insurance industry to reform its own self without having to create that jumbled, confusing mess of a bill.
Being an Illinois-based politician, it was natural that Obama’s “hero” was Abraham Lincoln, who is generally regarded as the country’s greatest president; Lincoln brought together people from across the spectrum for a common cause in a time of the nation’s greatest peril. What Obama failed to realize is that during the Civil War, there was a tangible enemy, and that enemy was the Confederacy and its reactionary, backward-thinking political, economic and social philosophy. Obama did not realize that today the “Confederacy” was the Republican Party, which was hell-bent to destroy his presidency and divide the country, and made no secret of it. Instead of being a “partner” in solving the country’s problems, the Republicans only sought to be disruptive and destructive; not one single piece of major legislation did the Republicans not vote en mass against. Not once did the Republicans offer any constructive ideas to solve the economic or health care dilemma; all of their ideas that were incorporated not only were destructive, they did not even gain their support for those bills.
Those of us on the left have criticized these efforts to compromise with Republicans and conservative Democrats because it not only compromised progressive principles, but it made a mockery of the mantra of “change.” Obama had a mandate, and he blew it. What did trying to be friends with the Republicans get him? It got him a bigot like Rush Limbaugh continuously calling him a “racist” for no comprehensible reason, and O’Reilly, Beck, Hannity and Coulter and the rest of that Fox News cast of funny farm characters calling him a communist, Marxist, socialist and a terrorist. That’s real “fair and balanced” stuff. Interestingly, Republican senators want to deal with Obama in the lame duck session perhaps because they know the once the new House is sworn-in, the potential for nothing getting done is strong given the fanaticism of House Republicans—particularly Tea Party types who have no sense of reality; in due course, Republicans receiving richly deserved blame as the party of no, which they escaped in 2010 because of disappointment with Obama, should become more apparent in 2012.
But I have little hope, given the evidence up to this point, that Obama will have learned from his mistakes. He has wrecked much of his credibility with the Democratic base after his latest dance with the Republicans. He has to find a way to rebuild it if he expects to win reelection in 2012. If we believe the rhetoric of incoming Republicans in the next House session, it will be near to impossible for Obama to accomplish anything constructive in the remaining two years unless he plays hardball with them. He has to go on the offensive, which means he has to maintain a steady attack on the regressive nature of their proposed policies and how they will affect the country and individuals negatively. Obama has to make the veto threat mean something, that he will not sign just anything put before him. He must have the political will and courage to tell Congress that his “principles”—such as they are—will not be compromised for mere political expediency; of course, he must first stop deceiving himself by denying that he has done so repeatedly. He must recognize the overwhelming fact that the Republicans are his enemy: they would even destroy the country just to destroy him.